368km (228 miles) SE of Acapulco; 240km (149 miles) NW of Salina Cruz; 80km (50 miles) NW of Puerto Angel

Idyllic Puerto Escondido has been subject to the same inflationary pressures as the rest of Mexico (and the world), so it isn't the dirt-cheap backpacker haven it used to be. Still, it remains the best overall beach value in Mexico, and it retains the same casual beach feel that has drawn people here for decades. Although it has long been known as one of the world's top surf sites, today its appeal is broadening: alternative therapies, great vegetarian restaurants, hip nightlife, affordable hotels and restaurants, and some of Mexico's best coffee shops. It's for those whose priorities include the dimensions of the surf break (big), the temperature of the beer (cold), the strength of the coffee (espresso), and the optimal tanning angle. The young and very aware crowd that comes here measures time by the tides, and the pace is relaxed.

The location of "Puerto," as the locals call it, makes it an ideal jumping-off point for ecological explorations of neighboring jungle and estuary sanctuaries, as well as indigenous mountain settlements. Increasingly, it attracts those seeking both spiritual and physical renewal, with abundant massage and bodywork services, yoga classes, and exceptional and varied healthful dining options.

People come from the U.S., Canada, and Europe to stay for weeks and even months. Expats have migrated from Los Cabos, Acapulco, and Puerto Vallarta seeking what originally attracted them to their former homes -- stellar beaches, friendly locals, and reasonable prices. Added pleasures include an absence of beach vendors and timeshare sales, an abundance of English speakers, and terrific, inexpensive dining and nightlife.

This is a real place, not a produced resort. A significant number of visitors are European travelers, and it's common to hear a variety of languages on the beach and in the bars. Puerto Escondido is also a favorite among Mexican college students. Solo travelers will probably make new friends within an hour of arriving. There are still surfers here, lured by the best break in Mexico, but espresso cafes and live music are becoming just as ubiquitous.

The city has been dismissed as a colony of former hippies and settled backpackers, but it's so much more. It's entirely possible that those who favor Puerto are just trying to keep the place true to its name (escondido means "hidden") and undiscovered by tourists. Don't let them trick you -- visit, and soon, before it, too, changes.